The Ugly F-Word of Forecasting

Oh, the ugly F-word of forecasting. I despise that one more than any other F-word around. I didn’t like it much throughout schools, and I loathed it on monthly basis when pursuing marketing career in the fast-moving consumer goods industry.

It’s not the numbers that I hated, for I’ve always been pretty good in math and statistics. It’s because forecasting is about sorting out, ironing out, and making models out of a jumble of quantitative figures and an array of qualitative factors to tell where customers will move to next. To make prediction one can often rely on general guestimate (guess plus estimate), yet to forecast a trend one needs to have a solid data-based analysis.

SPSS was the cutting edge software in my last semester at business school over a decade ago, and since then more sophisticated tools have emerged. Doesn’t mean forecasting is now a much less tenuous or a much more certain task to execute well. It has made or broken quite a number of high-flying corporate careers over the years.

That was why I attended the recent launch of Indonesia Trend Forecasting book by Bekraf with much interest. Forecasting the trend for one industry is hard enough, let alone simultaneously for four creative economy subsectors as Bekraf announced that day; craft, fashion, interior design and product design. I was intrigued.

I was more intrigued when I discovered at the launch party that the forecasters managed to formulate the same four trends for the aforementioned four subsectors; Archean (Earth shapes), Vigilant (calculated aesthetics), Cryptic (bio-engineering), Digitarian (Gen Z). There were corresponding product installations at the launch venue and, distributed to guests, the forecast books.

I’ve since devoured two of Indonesia Trend Forecasting books—Fashion, and Textile & Pattern. I like how each of the four trends uses Indonesian natural or cultural characteristics for visual references—a shape of ancient boulder here, a peek of handwoven fabric there, a splash of gemstones somewhere. I like how for every trend there are guidelines for shape, color and texture. I give it a due credit that each trend is preceded with narrative of the underlying concept—the narrative which, if I understood the speeches given at the launch party, was a product of discussions with industry’s stakeholders.

Yet in reading through the narratives that I started to develop my concerns. From my training and experience I understand that trends are supposed to be focused and pointed, not widening to include almost the whole spectrum of social phenomenon in the last couple of centuries. There is a considerable jump from Earth-bound elements to Internet-depended, Gen-Z urbanites, for example.

Trends are supposed to usher the users into a couple of defined corridors, not into several highways with multiple lanes each. There were too many trends to begin with, and each trend featured elements that may not exactly in sync with some of the elements of other trends. I’m not sure how to find red connecting dots between Primigenial and Post-Dynamic, for instance. At the end of the book I was quite uncertain which trend I had to follow if I were a designer. The choices were simply too wide.

My other question was how the four major trends came to be forecasted. How much historical quantitative data was inputted? How versatile the qualitative measures, including the aforementioned FGDs, were taken? Was there any specific, measurable forecasting tool used? It would support the books’ credibility much stronger if information about data sources, forecasting methods and other credentials were disclosed in the book.

How will these Indonesia Trend Forecasting books support designers? At their form now, I suppose they serve as a nice additional reading. For non-designers, they may serve as a visually-pleasing reference of how Indonesia’s rich heritage could be translated into design references. Yet as actual forecasting books, I believe they could use a sharper, more focal lens.

As I applaud Bekraf’s efforts to provide effective forecasts for the country’s creative industry, here’s looking forward to tighter editions in the future. By next year, perhaps? Cheers.

As published:

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